Saturday, July 27, 2013

Once Again Pope Francis Talks And Walks Like St Francis

In this photo Pope Francis demonstrates the proper body language for dialogue, that of the interested listener.

Pope Francis spoke to Brazillian cultural leaders and dropped a few more hints about who he is and what his vision is about.  Archbishop Chaput in particular will probable not derive much hope from Francis' words.  The following is from Vatican Radio:

Pope Francis: My advice is always “dialogue, dialogue, dialogue

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met with leading members of Brazilian society on Saturday and stressed the importance of constructive dialogue, saying this was essential at the present moment. “Between selfish indifference and violent protest," he said, "there is always another possible option, that of dialogue.” The Pope also called for more inclusive and humanistic economic and political process, eliminating “forms of elitism” and eradicating poverty. (Did he really use the dreaded 'humanistic' word?)

In his address to the political, diplomatic, cultural, religious, academic and business leaders of Brazil the Pope paid tribute to the country’s distinct cultural tradition, looked at their joint responsibility for building the future, and stressed the need for constructive dialogue in facing the present moment. He told the leaders that the future demands of us a humanistic vision of the economy and a politics capable of ensuring greater and more effective participation on the part of all. This, he continued, is the road that we are called to travel.

The Pope went on to say that anyone exercising a role of leadership needs to keep hope alive even in the face of disappointments, and be generous even without apparent results. He said leaders make decisions in the present but should always have an eye to the future, reflecting on the consequences of our decisions.
(This is a key insight into Francis' plans for reform. What ever he decides will take into consideration the future of his reforms beyond his own papacy. They will not be stop gap measures and a big part of it will be putting in place process/systems to avoid these same issues going forward.)

Pope Francis concluded his address by pointing to something which he considers essential for facing the present moment: constructive dialogue. A country grows when constructive dialogue occurs between its many rich cultural components. The Pope revealed that when leaders in various fields ask him for advice, his response is always the same: "Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue!" This, he said, is the only way for individuals, families and societies to grow. He said fraternal relations between people and cooperation in building a more just society are not some vague utopia but the fruit of a concerted effort on the part of all, in service of the common good.
(Pope Francis is not about stagnation and preserving the past. He is calling for growth, evolution, and maturation, and he's right, a more just society is not a vague utopia when people are motivated to seek a better way.)


The more I listen to and read the words and actions of Pope Francis, the more I am convinced he is operating from a spirituality that James Fowler calls a Stage 6 spiritual view. I think Francis is going to take the whole Church down this path whether anyone else really gets it or not. The following is Fowler's description of a stage 6 person. It's from an undated interview:
Stage Six: Universalizing Faith

Some few persons we find move into Stage Six, which we call universalizing faith. In a sense I think we can describe this stage as one in which persons begin radically to live as though what Christians and Jews call the
"kingdom of God" were already a fact. I don't want to confine it to Christian and Jewish images of the kingdom. It's more than that. I'm saying these people experience a shift from the self as the center of experience. Now their center becomes a participation in God or ultimate reality. There's a reversal of figure and ground. They're at home with what I call a commonwealth of being.

We experience these people on the one hand as being more lucid and simple than we are, and on the other hand as intensely liberating people, sometimes even subversive in their liberating qualities. I think of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the last years of his life. I think of Thomas Merton. I think of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. I think of Dag Hammerskjold and Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the last years of his imprisonment. These are persons who in a sense have negated the self for the sake of affirming God. And yet in affirming God they became vibrant and powerful selves in our experience. They have a quality of what I call relevant irrelevance. Their "subversiveness" makes our compromises show up as what they are.

This maturity from which Pope Francis operates is going to be a challenge and a threat to those who are not matured to this stage, and few people ever get to this stage.  The vision of Roman Catholicism this view holds is radically different from the view the last two papacies have acted from.  In Francis' life, the foreground and background truly have flipped.  It's why Francis constantly harps on the egoism of clericalism, has dropped all the papal froufrou, calls himself Bishop of Rome, and carries his own luggage. It's not that he's being intentionally subversive, it's that he no longer relates to any of the ego dressing associated with his vocation to priesthood.  It is however, still true, that these acts, representative of his 'being', are truly subversive of much of the clerical culture. 

They have to be threatening, or at least anxiety inducing, to sincere clerics like Archbishop Chaput whose view of ego and church are no where near where Francis is.  This is not to say that Chaput is a lesser human being, but it is to say that Chaput lives from a very different understanding of the vocation of priesthood and part of this difference is likely related to when AB Chaput went into the clerical system. It was with a junior seminary at age 13.  Francis on the other hand went into the system at age 22 after he had college and job experience and did not enter Jesuit formation until he was 25. There is a world of difference between a 13 year old and a 22 year old.  The following is Fowler's description of a Stage 4 spiritual mind:

Stage Four is concerned about boundaries: where I stop and you begin; where the group that I can belong to with conviction and authenticity ends and other groups begin. It's very much concerned about authenticity and a fit between the self I feel myself to be in a group and the ideological commitments that I'm attached to.

Keeping the above in mind, here's how this disconnect plays out as recorded by John Allen in his interview with AB Chaput, or how a dedicated Stage 4 believer can sound like a lost and confused teen ager because he now has a dedicated Stage 6 believer for his ultimate boss:

How do you explain the enthusiasm beyond the usual suspects?
I don't know how to interpret it, quite honestly. I think part of it is genuine appreciation for the pope's extraordinary friendliness and transparency. But also, I think they would prefer a church that wouldn't have strict norms and ideas about the moral life and about doctrine, and they somehow interpret the pope's openness and friendliness as being less concerned about those things. I certainly don't think that's true. I think he's a truly Catholic man in every sense of the word, but I think people are hoping that he'll be less concerned about the issues that separate us today.

Do you think there will be a moment of reckoning when the honeymoon wears off?

We'll see what happens. The pope may have a way of managing all of that will be extraordinary, I don't know. I would think that by virtue of his office, he'll be required to make decisions that won't be pleasing to everybody.

This is already true of the right wing of the church. They generally have not been really happy about his election, from what I've been able to read and to understand. He'll have to care for them, too, so it will be interesting to see how all this works out in the long run.

What I'm trying to convey with this post is that so much of the disconnect in the Church is not due to politics or theological views so much as it is a difference in spiritual stages.  The stages that Fowler describes are a universal phenomenon.  This is not just a Christian problem.  It's human problem.  I will be praying my little heart out that Francis can drag the clerical culture and the Church itself further along in it's spiritual evolution, and I will also pray that Archbishop Chaput gets his wish, that Francis is perfectly aware that the vision he sees is a vision that threatens folks who aren't quite where he is at.  Since Francis' ego isn't wrapped up in being right, but in being Christ to the world, I think he's more than equipped to handle the challenge.

Update:  Vatican Radio has just posted Pope Francis' speech to the Brazilian hierarchy.  It's the longest speech of his papacy and is most likely a blue print for the future direction of his papacy.  He doesn't pull many punches in his assessment of the current Church, but again, conservatives are not going to like what he says, even when he starts out saying what they want to hear.  Take this passage for instance in which he both acknowledges the importance of the family and then recognizes how important it is that the church not keep losing women but promote their active role in the ecclesial community:

In mission, also on a continental level, it is very important to reaffirm the family, which remains the essential cell of society and the Church; young people, who are the face of the Church’s future; women, who play a fundamental role in passing on the faith. Let us not reduce the involvement of women in the Church, but instead promote their active role in the ecclesial community. By losing women, the Church risks becoming sterile.

And then as Fowler describes above, about Stage 6 people, Francis himself calls for the use of more lucid and simple language:
Another lesson which the Church must constantly recall is that she cannot leave simplicity behind; otherwise she forgets how to speak the language of Mystery. Not only does she herself remain outside the door of the mystery, but she proves incapable of approaching those who look to the Church for something which they themselves cannot provide, namely, God himself. At times we lose people because they don’t understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity and import an intellectualism foreign to our people. Without the grammar of simplicity, the Church loses the very conditions which make it possible “to fish” for God in the deep waters of his Mystery.

Fowler himself goes into some detail about the importance of simple allegorical language as the language of mystery as it is this kind of spiritual language which is the foundation laid very early in our neural development as it applies to our religious or spiritual training.  It's really difficult to remove that kind of imagery from ones mind even as one matures.  The associations are too strong.  However, it is possible to integrate these associations into a far more mature spirituality by transcending the childhood definitions of the imagery.  Anyway, the Pope's speech is well worth reading.


  1. "To be honest, and this is not a
    charitable thought, every time I hear this man's name I have an instant
    mental association to 'clown masses'."

    The verry FEW so called "clown masses" were far more dignified in the lesson or parable they portrayed than this prelate and his get up.

  2. A bit of a tangent (my comments often are), but your post reminded me that I had heard of these stages before. I looked them up online (not sure if it would be the same source as you are citing) and found this for Stage 5:

    "Its danger lies in the direction of a paralyzing passivity or inaction, giving rise to complacency or cynical withdrawal, due to its paradoxical understanding of truth."

    Especially when one is unable to substantially connect or reconnect to any spiritual framework/tradition of meaning and related community. From personal experience I think you can kind of "get it" from an observer/intellectual point of view but remain unable to commit to participation and engagement with a religion or sacred tradition.

    I wonder how many people are in such a position, having left religion in Stage 3 or 4, kind of understand the lessons of Stage 5, but find themselves not really fitting in anywhere (and perhaps also still subconsciously skeptical of fitting in with religion even if consciously they have made major reconciliations with the idea).

    Not sure there are many books or teachings aimed at such an audience (the closest material I've seen tends to be for those moving to Stage 5 or still within a tradition), but I suspect it might be a lucrative niche market. Guidance for Pseudo-Stage V Faith Types isn't a catchy title, but I'm sure someone in marketing could work something up. :)

  3. Pope Francis has some very inspiring things to say. I've written down some quotes and will reflect on them. These are what really stood out for me:

    "The Church is never uniformity, but diversities harmonized in unity."

    "I prayed for you, your Churches, your priests, men and women religious, seminarians and laity and their families and, in a particular way, the young people and the elderly: these last are the hope of a nation; the young because they bring strength, idealism and hope for the future; the elderly because they represent the memory, the wisdom of the people."

    "People always start with their needs."

    "The Church is called to be a means of reconciliation."

    "The Church also has to learn how to wait."

    "In the homes of the poor, God always finds a place."

    "God appears at the crossroads."

    "Ours is not an age of change, but a change of age."

    "The Icon of Emmaus as a key for interpreting the present and the future."

    "Do we know anything more powerful than the strength hidden within the weakness of love, goodness, truth and beauty?"

    "What is missing is someone to warm their heart, as was the case with the disciples of Emmaus."

    "By losing women, the Church risks becoming sterile."

    Powerful words and I hear from these words the voice of a really Good Shepherd, a down to earth man with a great big heart. The entire talk he gave was truly a blessing to read.

    Also when he spoke about Brazil and how God wants it to be a garden was beautiful. Brazil is very key in keeping the temperature of the Earth at reasonable levels to sustain life on the planet, from what I have read. Glad he is very aware about the environment of the earth.

    Pope Francis is a lot easier for me to understand than the writings of Pope Benedict which was very confusing.

  4. To be honest Dave I think a lot of the 'nones' and spiritual but not religious could fit in this category. The abuse crisis, and in my generation, Humanae Vitae, seemed to have thrown people out of stages 3 and 4 and catapulted them into stage 5. Moving on to stage 6 according to Fowler, means people would still have to continue to wrestle with their faith and finally come to some kind of integration.

    My guess is we have a lot of clergy who are in stage 5 and don't admit it, becoming Catholic agnostics for the sake of a job. Stage 5 folks would be very difficult to evangelize from the world view of stage 3 or 4 church. It's going to take someone like Francis to give people enough reason to to do the re evaluation. Someone who walks the talk. Pope Benedict didn't have a hope in hell.

  5. Getting back to Pope Francis, just saw a story with him wearing the head dress of an indigenous group from the Amazon basin. Reminded me of this post on universalizing faith.

    The comments below the story were interesting, as one person pointed out that the Pope has spoken out against destruction of the rainforest and called out the disrespect and damage done to native cultures, but another person claimed it was all just words and that logging companies and the like wouldn't care what the Pope says.

    I somehow think they may both be right. I wonder what influence the Pope can really have on an issue like preserving the rain forests and indigenous peoples of the Amazon?

  6. They are both right. Pope Francis can impact the situation by bringing world attention to the problem and supporting the Indigenous on the ground with active Church support. Eventually the government might be forced to act. As Fran mentions below, the Amazon basin is critical to over all global ecology.

  7. I'm going to have to reread his sermon and pick out my favorites. A lot of them would be the same.

    I loved the connection with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. It really does serve as a metaphor for millions who have left. I also think he nailed the reasons millions have left.

  8. Thanks for the reply Colleen. Each person will have their own issues, but those who have lost their capacity for faith are going to be trapped in between. When I say faith here I mean the ability and willingness to take a risk on something greater or more wonderful than everyday life and their previous experiences would suggest.

    For some, it may be the fact that their religious background or current parishes/liturgies are in Stages 1-3. For others, it may be that difficulty with picking/sticking with "a" religion or tradition/community when knowing they are all imperfect and relative. For others, perhaps some damage to or deep pain in their "soul" (the part of us that has the capacity to truly dream, to dare to hope, to see and accept the big picture of life with more than nihilism or a numbing extension of daily monotony into an unexamined life). And for still others a well-earned cynicism toward religion itself. Maybe some or all of these and more.

    It will be interesting to see how all of this plays out.

  9. I love this quote in which he specifically targets clericalism: “What do I expect as a consequence of the Youth Day? I expect a mess,” Francis said, according to the ZENIT Catholic news agency... "I want a mess in the dioceses! I want people to go out!, I want us to defend ourselves against everything that is worldliness . . . that is comfortableness, that is clericalism, that is being shut-in in ourselves.”

  10. Yes, Pope Francis nailed the connections, understands that many have left and recognizes it as an Exodus. And many of us have felt pushed out and some have been thrown out. What is notable about Francis is that rather than condemn them, he truly wants to reach out to them, and to everyone in the world, and that is after all the mission of the Church, or should be. It is going to take the trads a while to grasp what Pope Francis is saying. It seems they had great difficulty accepting notions outside their box of understanding.

    Pope Francis is mature in his Faith and it really shows a great example for all to see. I am thrilled to be witnessing him. For truly, the course of humanity was on the road to Gehenna with hardly the memory of the Road to Emmaus. Those dark elements are still there, but Pope Francis is a huge spotlight of hope.

  11. He did nail it. I loved the part about passing a baton in a relay race. I also loved the bishops dance warm-up. ( I did get up the courage to check out Fr. Z's blog, go see it if you want a smile) I want to live in Brazil!

  12. This kind of talk is very helpful in terms of changing the culture of Catholicism and gives a permission for those in the Catholic orbit who want real compassionate change to occur to speak up. That said, while the American hierarchy continue to try to sabotage health care for the poor over the issue of contraception, or sabotage human rights and non-discrimination for gays over the issue of gay marriage, there is no real change in the Catholic Church.

  13. Pace I agree, and feel that many of the Bishops are not in stage 4 but an earlier stage 3 in which they refuse to take responsibility to their actions. Their claim to be the sole teacher of their diocese and their refusal to see the People of God and more erudite theologians as a valid and necessary part of the magisterium only points to very immature and fearful borderline personalities. I hope Francis is indeed in stage 6, but the problem for the organization is that many stage 6 people end up assassinated either physically or mind murdered by autocratic believers that is their way or the highway.

  14. Dennis I've always thought you hit the nail on the head with borderline diagnosis for too many of our clergy. I also think Francis knows he's making himself vulnerable to those forces which is why I think he keeps throwing out just enough stuff for their ears to keep them listening. He is walking a very thin path with very little room for error.